Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Slaying The Beast

I think the need to fight and conquer is tattooed into the chromosomes of every human being who ever lived. We all have our own monsters and demons, our own beasts to fight and kill. The type of beast is different for everyone, but when you look at the things that entertain us, they are generally about good guys and bad guys and the destruction of the monster by the hero. Whether the hero is a cop fighting the mob or a 12-year-old boy wizard battling the embodiment of snaky nastiness, it's always the little guy going into battle against a larger, seemingly unstoppable force. But The Beast doesn't have to be a single big monster, it can also be lots and lots of little ones.

We rescued two kittens back in August of last year. They brought with them fleas to my home. We have never had fleas, and were completely unprepared to deal with them. All the flea powder and sprays and baths in the world has not rid us of this plague. And it is like a plague. The cats are miserable and one is ill thanks to a serious and heretofore unknown allergy to fleas. We've been fighting for a year, and have had no success.
Like the villagers in an old fantasy story, we must call in a knight errant to wield his sword and spear against our Beast for us. In the real world, this would be the Terminex man with his special sprays and traps. Huzzah and all will be well, for this hero is a well-known and much loved slayer of Beasts! Highly recommended to us and will not demand an outrageous payment for his services.

Unlike the fantasy story, however, we had another Beast which must be slain before the knight could reach us, this one was more like the werewolf legend. Someone in the village was a danger, and must be rooted out before the knight would come. In our case, the werewolf is the fact that there are three incredibly messy people living in my house. None of us cleaned well or often. My house was split between Hoarding levels 2 and 3 according to the NSGCD's literature.

We recognized our problems long ago, and were trying to fix them. I don't have hoarding issues, but the other two do. I'm just messy. But it sort of amounted to the same thing. Last week, we went into battle The Beast. I have to say I think this one was worse than the fleas. The fleas are external, the dragon that swooped out of the sky one day. It's not our fault. We were trying to do a good thing and save two kittens' lives.
The mess, however, the werewolf IS our fault. The gypsies cursed us after we refused to let them take shelter in our town, and we will suffer for it. Routing out the werewolf, werewolves, means the death of people you care about. It means that someone you love--like, at least--is going to die. Because they are the werewolf.
To bring that out of metaphor, cleaning and decluttering means taking time away from things we want to do to get rid of things we want to keep. How many college textbooks do I need? I'm not going to college anymore. How many romance novels can BB (hubby's sister) really read? How many models can Teddy (hubby) reasonably display? Do I need a collection of 40 rubber ducks? Does Teddy need his childhood toys? Does BB have to have six books on knitting? If you had asked us all a year ago, we would have said "yes." The trade-off didn't seem so bad. People couldn't come over. So what? We can always go out, or to their house. So what if it smells? Give it a half-hour and you won't notice it.
Last night, we won our battle. For now, at least. Last night, I cooked dinner on a clean stove while BB set a clean table with clean dishes and Teddy vacuumed an otherwise-spotless craft room. After we finished dinner, eaten together at a real table and served with fresh clean dishes pulled from neat stacks in a clean cupboard, I unloaded the dishwasher's last load while BB cleared the table and Teddy cleaned the cat litter. Then BB loaded the dishwasher while I washed down the counters and stove. Teddy carried the garbage to the curb.
Then, we sat down together in our living room which was completely devoid of piles of trash, old mail piled on the coffee table, and dishes piled on tray tables to watch our latest NetFlix disc (Leverage Season 1 Disc 3, if you're curious). Teddy snuggled with one of the cats, BB pulled out her crochet and I got a couple more rows done on my knitting project.
When we decided to shut down around 11, we girls packed away our crafts, and Teddy straightened the sofa cushions he'd mussed. I carried the glasses we'd drunk from into the kitchen, dumped and rinsed them. BB put the crafting basket in its new home, and Teddy set the alarm.
Before I curled up to sleep with Teddy that night in a made bed that didn't have to cleared off before we got into it, that had clean sheets and pillowcases on the pillows, I put my clothes in a hamper. I didn't trip on anything on my way into bed. And when had to get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, I didn't stub my toe on a camera bag like I did last month, didn't trip on my dirty clothes, and didn't have to step over a pile of books by the bed. I just walked in the dark without fearing for my toes.

Like any good horror story, we don't know if the Beast is really, truly dead. Maybe we'll never know. But the important thing is that we know what it looks like now, and we know we can fight it. We know that, at the end of the day, we can win because we are stronger than The Beast.

And that's all that matters.

Monday, April 19, 2010

"I Can Do It!"

I was at a used books store on Saturday evening. My roommate, BB, and I love our bookstore. It is a huge, and I mean HUGE bookstore. It's roughly the size of a grocery store, putting the new books stores to shame, and it is simply stuffed with bookcases. There is no wasted display space, no big silly signs, no journals or wrapping paper, just books, DVDs, and CDs.
The first time we went there, it was night, and the being brightly lit with big picture windows, it shone in the darkness, beckoning us into its warmth and light with promises of knowledge and safety. It did not disappoint us.
I wasn't feeling all that great on this trip, so I sat on the bench available to footsore patrons while BB walked the store after I'd made a quick trip to horror and sci-fi. I got myself an old Robert Bloch and two McAffreys for my mother.
Most of the people were the usual adults milling around with their baskets and carts, but there was one family I watched with interest, a mother and her 3- or 4- year-old boy. The little boy wanted to carry the basket. It was as long as he was tall, and a bit heavy for him. But he wanted to carry it, to show he was a big boy. It was the cutest thing I'd seen in a long time.
Mom didn't want him to carry the basket. "Is it heavy, mommy?" the little one asked. I would have said, "not really," but this mother said, "yes, very!" The little boy still said "I can carry it, mommy! Let me do it!" She handed him the basket, not really looking at him.
I watched as he tried to carry the basket in front of him, bouncing it off his little tennis-ball knees. He determined the basket was too heavy, and so he squatted down, laid each book carefully on the floor around him, and started experimenting. He put some back in the basket and picked it up carefully, just an inch off the floor, weighing it in his hands. He tested the weight of two books against each other, of one stack against another, and on and on. I was fascinated. Here was a little boy learning all kinds of things: how to estimate weights, the correlation between size and weight, his own limits, and logical problem-solving.
This went on for about five minutes. At the end, he had a stack of books in the basket he could reasonably carry, and two books on the floor. He picked up the two books and handed them to his mother. She took them, not even noticing. She was busy. Undaunted by his mother's disinterest, he picked up the basket and declared "I can do it!" He was shushed by his mother.
When she turned away from the shelf, she realized she was holding a pair of books. She looked down at her proudly smiling son, who was holding the basket up as high as he could, big goofy grin on his face.
She gave an exasperated noise, snatched the basket from him, threw the two books into it, and said shortly, "I told you it was too heavy." The little boy took hold of the handle and said, "I can do it, mommy! I want to carry it!"
"No, it's too heavy. Let go." She batted his hand way. The little boy looked crushed, and when his mother turned her back to him to look at another shelf, he put his hand lightly on the basket, still trying to help.
I was crushed and even offended on the boy's behalf. He was just taught that his contributions are worthless, that he cannot help, that his mother doesn't think he can do anything. In ten years, if the mother continues on the path she's on now, that little boy will be a surly, ungrateful, lazy teenager.

Little children cannot do their "fair" share. They can't actually DO much of anything. But if parents take the time to train their children in how to do things, then by the time they are able to really help, they will be able to, and they will have a will towards it.
The true purpose in teaching a child to fold clothes, cook food, wash dishes, or empty garbage cans is not to create an indentured servant. The purpose is to teach the child diligence, faithfulness, teamwork, independence, and confidence. The child who is not taught to work does not spontaneously become a hard worker just because he got a job at McDonald's. We have all been through the line with a surly, incompetent drive-thru worker enough to know that.

Seeing that little boy, who apparently had a naturally strong desire to work, being shut down by a mother who couldn't see her own son, just broke my heart. In the end, did it matter if that basket got dragged on the floor? Or if the mom had to carry a book or two in her hands? Of course not. What mattered was the chance for a mom to let her child do something hard for him, and succeed. What mattered was the chance to tie strings, to show love. And it was a missed chance. Miss enough of them, and you're going to run out.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

I am Afraid of My Own Life

Sunday night, I went to return a movie to the Red Box down at the 7-11. It's a wonderful thing, isn't it? Rent movie, watch movie, return movie, all for one dollar plus sales tax! (By the way, why is there sales tax on something that wasn't sold? This irks me greatly.)

I pulled up to the Red Box, and waited. And waited. A lovely young couple was renting several movies. They did not, however, know what they were going to rent in advance. So they flipped through the entire listing. Several times. I understand why they would do that. I mean, it's not as though Red Box has a website you can browse before leaving your home. It's also not as though the Red Box has a 6-foot-tall, 4-foot-wide display telling you which movies are available in it.
So, as they are making their choices, I stand there, far enough out of the way that it doesn't look like I'm impatient (I am) and yet close enough that it should be obvious I'm in line. I hold my little square plastic container with the dvd of the Sci Fi Channel's Alice in it, my arms crossed, the case tapping against my elbow. Up walks another person. Does he acknowledge me when I say "hello," as a gentle way of saying, "The line starts here, bub," or stand behind me? Of course not. He glares at me and steps between me and the lovely couple, who turn to him and start talking about the movie 2012.
The lovely couple start talking about how horrible it was that the end of the world was coming and the government just let everybody die. I refrained from asking what the government was supposed to do if the planet was falling apart literally. (I don't know if that happens in the movie. I didn't watch it.) The glaring gentleman started talking about Nostradamus and how he also predicted the world would end in December of 2012, and how Nostradamus predicted the rise of Hitler and the election of President Obama.
The young male part of the happy couple nods seriously, and the young lady says that it doesn't matter, because the Chinese are so much more advanced than us, they have "holographic phones and shit" and if the world did decide to end, then the Chinese would save us.
It was at this point that my brain really started to hurt. I had to say something. "Those holographic phones are prototypes coming out of Japan, not China. China's economy is built primarily on manufacturing rather than innovation," says Cranky.
The young lady looked at me and responded, "Whatever, Japan then. Japan can save us."
I laughed, just a little disbelieving bark of surprised laughter. Of course, that didn't go over very well. The young gentleman decided to go inside and buy something, and the young lady tried to swipe her card through the machine.
Swipe, nothing happens. Swipe, again nothing. Swipe, swipe, swipe, swipe, swipe, swipe. EIGHT TIMES she swiped the card (I counted!) before she looked at her card, looked at the drawing, giggled, and flipped her card over.

By this time her gentleman friend had returned from the 7-11's interior, and they collected their movies from the machine. Then they climbed into the 2-tons of metal and fiberglass they are allowed to careen around the streets in, and drove off. To me, that is the most terrifying part of this story, that these people would be allowed to drive, to vote, and to breed. Ok, the breeding doesn't bother me quite so much, as we will always need push-broom pilots and grocery baggers. But for heaven's sake, don't let them near a voting booth or a steering wheel!

My trip to return Alice took me twenty minutes. I live one minute from the Red Box, and it took less than fifteen seconds to return the movie.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

So Glad I Went to College For This

The reason there have been no posts is that Ms. Cranky has been fighting quite the fit of pique over the summer. For the most part, my days have been filled with activities of no social, economical, moral, or spiritual value. There's been nothing going on. My facility has been about as jam-packed as Mother Hubbard's cupboard. The center of the Gobe at high noon has more activity. So, there really hasn't been anything to write about. I have done a lot of very, very frustrating make-work. During this time, I have been able to ruminate on my position in the education industry, and indeed in my life, and I've decided that I'm getting out. Out of the whole thing. My poor little blog, a terminal case before it leaves infancy. A moment of silence, please?

...wait for it....

Ok, thanks for that. Anyway, this post is simply a kvetch about my boss, and bosses in general. They are silly, aren't they?
I rather like Paul Graham's essay entitled You Weren't Meant to Have a Boss. We can all identify with the sentiment, I think. Note that he didn't say "Leader," he said "Boss." Back in the day, way way back, "Boss" meant the guy who knew what the plan was, who told folks how high to build the wall, how deep to dig the trench, things like that. He knew what was going on and he was the conductor of the group, making sure that the men who worked under him were doing the RIGHT things and doing them the RIGHT way. Now, the average boss seems more concerned with things LOOKING like they're being done than actually getting done.
My boss thinks nothing of having his highly trained staff do work that would be done faster and better by machine, simply because it LOOKS cheaper. And since I and the other person of whom I speak are salaried, we are simply given more things to do without any extra time. We must now gather our own straw for the bricks we must make without falling behind in production. When we fall behind, in classic Pointy-Haired Boss style, our boss chews us out for being inefficient and/or unwilling to spend large amounts of extra hours at work.

How do people come up with these kinds of things? How does a person lose their grip on reality so thoroughly that they can't see that a person forced into an untenable position will eventually revolt?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Logical Fallacy, Meet Suburban Soccer Moms

There is a "Martial Arts Studio" near my work, in the same shopping center I do most of my grocery procurement in, and in the window, in big bold letters, is a sign that says "Defeat the bully without fighting." Do-whaa-huh?! was my intelligent and well-reasoned response to that, followed closely by a sudden understanding and a patronizing chuckle. After seeing this sign a while back, I started looking for others. I realized that there were an awful lot of kid-oriented martial arts places, and they all have some variation on this theme plastered over their windows, vans, brochures, fliers, billboards, and custom t-shirts.
I think I understand where this insanity comes from, and it's not pretty. It comes from that whole "violence never solved anything" mantra that is so popular, especially these days. All evidence to the contrary, Suburbanite moms really want to believe they can talk their way out of conflicts, and that their children can, too! To them, there is nothing martial about "martial arts." It's just about exercise and discipline and white uniforms that have to be bleached every week.
Anyone who's been bullied knows that the best way to deal with said bully is to fight the hell back. Fight hard, and make it not worth the little snot's pain and energy to keep coming after you. Honestly, I just think most women don't really understand kids, certainly not boy children. Yes, yes I did just say that. Bring it.
When girls start to become teenagers, they stop physically fighting (most of the time, anyway), and start going psychological. And since psychological bullying is fought with words, they sort of assume that ALL bullying can be fought the same way.
Men are at least honest. They know they don't understand girls and don't pretend to, but women seem to think that the ability to successfully gestate and expel small, screaming balls of flesh imbues with special powers which allow them to understand and relate to all children., it does not. You do not have special powers. You do not understand boys any better than men understand girls. Deal with it.
Anyway, back to the whole bully thing. Suburban mommies want their little boys to have a safe place to work off all that pesky energy, preferably near a nail or hair salon and a Starbucks. But they do not want their little boys to be all rough and violent the way little boys are. They certainly don't want to see their children learning how to fight. That's just...uncivilized. Then they wonder why their teenage boys are whiny little wimps.

To make a very long-winded post very short, I will end this by saying that I believe that over-protective soccer moms are the reason "Emo" exists. Emo is not the product of manly men, at least.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Good Kids

I realized I haven't talked about any of my good kids. And there have been many. One student in particular, Reginald, is probably my favorite student. You know you're not supposed to have favorites, but you always do.

Reginald looks like a young, sober Eric Clapton. He is a sweet, kind, quiet kid who loves music. He is a big fan of classic rock. He and I have had many time-wasting discussions on bands that most of his contemporaries have never even heard of. Great kid. The only negative thing I can say about young Reginald is that he never remembers to bring pencil or paper. But it's almost a joke at this point.
The problem is that good people just aren't that interesting to talk about. All of the really interesting stuff is BAD. Good kids don't cause conflicts that make you sit forward in your chair and mutter "you gotta be KIDDING me!" as you read.
Good kids are good in a thousand tiny ways. They show up on time with a smile and ask you how YOU are after you ask them. They care. They remember that you're a human being. And those are things that are hard to describe. It's a vibe.
Bad kids are easy to talk about. You can tell someone about the outrageous things they do. You can talk about the snide remarks and rude faces. It's a lot harder to describe the calm, sweet face of a good girl pulling her book towards her, tongue sticking out of the side of her mouth as she tries to understand a particularly difficult passage. It's harder to explain the satisfaction you draw from a teen like Reginald saying "wait, don't tell me. I think I can...I got it!" And then you get to see that yes, he DOES got it. And good for him for not wanting help. That's harder to explain. As is evidenced by how hard it is for me to find the words to write this post.
Good is not the absence of bad. Good is the intentional application of principles. Good isn't avoiding causing pain, hurt, or frustration. Good is about TRYING to cause happiness, peace, and harmony. Good is not a default position.
Most of us want to believe that humans are basically good. We want to believe that only a few outliers are cruel, heartless, mean-spirited, or just thoughtless. We know this isn't true. We know that most people are all of those things, but we don't want to believe it. It's a hard thing to accept. Especially if good is your default mode now. But that wasn't the way you were born. It's the way you were MADE. Your mind was molded, intentionally or otherwise, into one that believes in being good. We're all born selfish, greedy, and thoughtless. We're born bad. Good takes work.
I am grateful for the good kids. They make this job doable. They keep you coming back. I am grateful most of all to their parents, who taught them to be good. Who molded the hearts and minds of their children with an understanding of right and wrong. I think it's easy to dismiss small things, and I'm grateful to the parents who didn't. To the parents who see their child angrily hit something--however ineffectually--and recognize the seeds of rage in their child. I am grateful to them that train those impulses out of their kids. They are good parents, and their children do not annoy me. They give me hope for the future.

I stumbled across something today that gave me pause. Ok, that's the wrong word. The creeping horrors is better. Retching dry heaves and sobs also work. It was a description of the WWII-era Unit 731. I will not describe it in detail, because I don't think I could handle it myself, and would not subject my gentle readers to it, either. But know that the Nazis had nothing on Japan's 731. The horrors described in the two paragraphs I read made me weep. I cannot imagine the kind of upbringing necessary to make someone think it is OK to torture, truly torture, people. I cannot fathom it.
I am generally non-political here, but I will tell you that when I read the descriptions of torture instruments and methods used by 731, the Nazis, the Inquisitors, and others, I can tell you that the interrogation techniques allowed by the Geneva Conventions which have been used by the US, the UK, and others doesn't come close, and to equate the kinds of things done true torture to that is just...well, it's at once laughable and tragic.
I fear for the fate of people who were raised in a culture that would allow true torture. I fear for them and I wonder what has to happen to create that kind of depravity of soul such that the monsters of Unit 731 were never considered criminals or monsters, and were left to live their lives, even to profit from their government-sanctioned work of horror and terror. Did those people go on to have and raise children? What were those children like? Were they raised to be polite? Were they monsters hiding behind placid faces and nice words? Or were they somehow able to become good despite being borne of monsters? It's a conundrum, to be sure.

No matter what, I am glad for the children that I work with here who were raised well, and are good, sweet children in their souls. I am much less concerned with whether they are smart or well-prepared for the day than I am with whether or not they exude love or hate.